I called Jen Griswold because I had just quit my job. I had fallen into the trap so many spouses do of underemployment. I needed some inspiration, and through her, a fellow Air Force wife, I found it.
Jen pursued her passion and turned it into a career, and I wondered if I could do the same. “Young military spouses have so much hope,” she told me. She urged me to forge my own career path, and in turn, shared her story with me. Her resilience came not only from being a spouse but a Veteran who had “settled down” to start her own business, and a family of 4 with her active duty husband.
When she joined the Air Force Academy, she knew she would be outnumbered by men, but was motivated by the challenge. “I definitely think that the ladies at USAFA had to prove our ourselves,” Jen told me. “There were so few of us that everything we did was scrutinized…. but I really think it made us…more determined women.
It was here that she not only began her path to becoming a military officer, but a military spouse. She met her husband Kevin the summer after freshman year, learning to fly glider planes. She won a friendly competition between the two of them as to who could fly his/her plane solo first. Little did they know at the time, this would set a precedent for the two service members to push one another.
In spite of being stationed together after getting married, the couple spent a lot of time apart. Once their first child was born, Jen left Active Duty to offer “more stability for [the] family.” She joined the Reserves, as an Aircraft Maintenance officer. Today, she is assigned to the Pentagon.
Initially, leaving active duty life left Jen unsure of where to turn careerwise. This is a problem many transitioning service members face, despite the military’s on-base resources for individuals leaving active duty. Jen had difficulty finding employment commensurate with her experience and educational background that was also part time and well paying. This was where her leadership training as a young officer kicked in. Jen carved out a career by developing and owning her own business: Cozy Chic Design & Home Staging. Without professional training in the field, she nevertheless opened the business and served the mobile military community. She has since sold this successful business
Today, Jen is a Market Developer for an incredibly successful skincare business. She has her own clientele base within the company, and has found steady income through her work.
The military prepared Jen for her entrepreneurial endeavors by teaching her to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” When she was 24, Jen managed a group of 250 mechanics. Jen recalls that she “didn’t feel like I had enough experience or knowledge to be their legitimate leader.” Not having a choice in the matter, she “quickly learned and adapted,” to become the leader that they needed. Likewise, in her own business ventures, Jen found herself unsure of many of the smaller aspects of running a business. She struggled with the minutiae of accounting and taxes. But her military experience taking on leadership roles, prepared or not, led her to manage these challenges. Her businesses have flourished.
She also leverages her military service to help fellow military spouses. She explains that because she knows “how a squadron runs and who the players are,” she can help spouses understand decisions made pertaining their service member’s careers.
She also has perspective on the military spouse challenge of unemployment and underemployment. She testifies to the value of self-empowerment and an awareness of self worth. “You are just as important as your service member,” she tells young military spouses. “If you want to work, or start a business, find a mentor and don’t give up on that dream. It really is possible to do anything you want, even as a military spouse moving around all the time.”
She sees young military spouses as a community that can truly revitalize the military spouse world. Hopeful about their futures, our next generation of “milspouses” can inject a new perspective into military family life.
This is a Veteran who continues to serve, providing military spouses with insight into forging their own unique paths. My conversation with her was exciting, reminding me that so much possibility lay ahead. The door I closed leaving my job, like the door that closed when Jen left active duty, can only lead to new journeys within military life.
Jill Pohl is an Air Force wife of almost five years who has, like many military spouses, held several different jobs in just a few years. Most recently, she was the Military Spouse Program Coordinator for Hiring Our Heroes, part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. She currently works as a freelance writer and blogger. Jill lives with her husband and two dogs, a pug and a German Shepherd, in Northern Virginia. You can read more of her military spouse-related writing at www.visionsofjillhanna.com.
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.